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Historic FATA/PATA merger

Opportunities & Challenges

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

The merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) with respective provinces, as a result of assent of President to the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2018 [2th Constitutional Amendment] on May 28, 2018 was undoubtedly an historic day in our history. This merger, long-overdue and much-delayed, offers a number of opportunities, but also poses some daunting challenges. Availing the opportunities and tackling the challenges, fulfilling the promises made to people living in these areas and removing their sense of deprivation, is now the responsibility of our leadership collectively—whether in power or not. Integration of these areas with the rest of Pakistan has many facets—political, legal, administrative and above all, economic. The government should provide incentive for investment in these areas and the masses must show the same spirit for this successful merger as the Germans demonstrated after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989.   

The merger after 70 years of independence shows apathy of rulers—how shameful that following the colonial legacy since 1947 people of these areas used to be called residents of “Illaqa-e-ghair” (alien land). Now they will enjoy the same legal treatment as is being meted out to those living in “settled areas”. These two abhorable terminologies within one country were simply lamentable and loathsome. Thank God these have been now legally removed. Hopefully, these will also not reflect any more in the attitude of those who wanted to perpetually see these areas backward and their people at the mercy of political agents—carrying on the legacy of Gora Sahibs through oppressive laws—most notorious being the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), imposed under British rule in the 1850s.     

The 25th Constitution Amendment) removed the words “the Federally Administered Tribal Areas” from the definition of ‘Republic and its territories’, contained in Article 1 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic [“the Constitution”]. The same words have also been deleted from Articles 62 and 155 of the Constitution as after the 25thConstitutional Amendment, FATA and PATA [defined in Article 246 of the Constitution] have lost their special status provided previously in Article 247. On April 17, 2018, President gave assent to the law passed by Parliament, ‘Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Act, 2018’ extending the jurisdiction of superior courts to FATA.

The 25thConstitutional Amendment has amended Articles 51 and 59, which specify the number of seats allocated to each of the federating units in the national and provincial assemblies. The strength of the Senate as a result would be reduced from 104 to 96 members but the existing members of the Senate from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas shall continue till expiry of their respective terms of office. As FATA would no longer have separate representation, the number of seats in the National Assembly is going to be reduced to 336 from 342 with the condition that these will take effect from the general elections to be held in 2023. In elections for 2023-28 term, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly will have 145 seats, including 115 general, 26 reserved for women and 4 for minorities. FATA will have 21 seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, including 16 general, 4 for women and one reserved for non-Muslims.

The residents of FATA and PATA suffered immensely since British rule—perpetual violence, armed conflicts and military operations. These areas after 9/11 emerged as the focal point of ‘war against terrorism’. Social and economic development of these areas has never been given a serious thought by successive governments even after independence. In the wake of 9/11, Musharraf’s government on the insistence of USA and donor agencies started earmarking some resources for the social uplift of the tribal areas, but no tangible results could be achieved, primarily for lack of acceptance and/or representation of local people in development planning and its implementation.

The present situation in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the direct result of initiation of so-called “jihad” (holy war) by USA and its allies to dismember the erstwhile Marxist USSR, after the Red Army’s inroad into Afghanistan. The USSR at that time was perceived by the West as its worst enemy endangering their international political and economic interests. The tribal people were used as mercenaries in this war against Marxism and were left alone to fight each other, after the goal of Russia’s dismemberment was achieved. The United State’s role in converting these areas into a hub for drug trade and terrorism is well-documented and cannot be controverted any more—see details in our book, Pakistan: Drug-trap to Debt-trap.  

Omar Waraich, Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International has very rightly commented that passage of 31st Constitutional Amendment “is an historic moment that ends more than a century and a half of colonial-era draconian laws for people in the tribal areas. They can finally enjoy the same constitutional rights as other Pakistanis, breaking with a disgraceful past of arbitrary and punitive rule”.

.It is lamentable that some of our so-called religious leaders have been inciting the people of Pakistan in general and tribes living in FATA in particular against USA, but when opportunity to enjoy “foreign money” for relief or development comes, they claim their entitlement as a matter of right.  This is hypocrisy in its worst form. Now after merger they are worried about cessation of funds and their leverage to blackmail the government in the name of tribal people. There is an urgent need to develop FATA, PATA by giving full rights and opportunities to the residents of less-privileged areas—in fact it is necessary for all the underdeveloped areas of Pakistan and not for a particular province. Factors like poverty, ignorance, lack of education and inequality give space to politically-motivated clergy—so-called religious parties—to exploit the have-nots. This is the root cause of radicalisation. Unless we nip the root cause, symptoms will keep on recurring. The unemployed and disillusioned youth are easy victims for recruitments by certain terrorist groups, financed by hostile countries. We need to counter them with good governance for which all-out reforms are a pre-requisite.

Ex-Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while addressing a tribal gathering at Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency on May 23, 2018, rightly observed that provision of basic facilities to the people of FATA/PATA was more important than their merger. No doubt they need quality education, better health facilities, clean drinking water, decent transport facilities with good road infrastructure, gas and electricity and all other universal entitlements guaranteed under the Constitution. This is their legal right and should not be considered as granting any favour to the people of FATA/PATA. Along with these facilities, the residents of these areas need peace and tranquility and end of oppressive control by any agency. No doubt these areas need reforms, but these should be with the participation of locals, according to their aspirations and with true implementation of local self-rule envisaged in Article 140A of the Constitution. The fundamental structural reforms should be all inclusive. These must ensure people’s participation that alone can create a sense of ownership among the masses for the entire process of integration and progress.

It is high time that with merger of FATA and PATA comes a comprehensive, multi-faceted programme of development, undertaken on war footings. These areas are rich in natural resources and if projects are designed prudently, the people of these areas can be made to prosper in a short span of time. This is the only way to make Pakistan secure and safe. If these areas remain under conflict and internally displaced persons are not fully rehabilitated, then merger will be another fruitless move. The poor, brave and hardworking among these people have been victims of oppression and exploitation even after independence. It is now the collective responsibility of all citizens to pressurise the forces that matter in the land to give them means to progress so that they can also enjoy full rights under the supreme law of the land.     


The writers, lawyers and authors, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of management Sciences (LUMS)

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